Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lucia di Lammermoor at the Met

I had the pleasure of being at last Saturday's matinee performance of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Metropolitan Opera, starring Anna Netrebko. This is the first performance I've seen her in; the almost 4000 of us there gave her a warm ovation when she stepped out on stage.

I thought Netrebko's performance was thrilling - if merely for her star power. Friends who saw the performance in a Columbus theater's HDTV broadcast also thought it was terrific. Netrebko belted out her high notes with high volume, but I noticed a little inconsistency in her singing (her voice missed the start of a few notes and her midrange volume was low). Not at all bad for her having just returned from having her baby.

Netrebko is the 3rd Lucia I've seen in this production. I thought Natalie Dessay's acting in the mad scene was the most compelling, and the best all around combination of acting and singing was Diana Damrau's. Yet Damrau was the least heralded of the three. Ah, the magic of good publicists!

BTW, I also had the pleasure of meeting Zinta Lundberg, Bloomberg's arts & culture writer, at the Opera Club again during my visit this weekend. She wrote up the Jan. 27th performance of Lucia, with ailing Rolando Villazon. Fortunately, we heard Piotr Beczala as Edgardo and he sang very well. Marco Armiliato conducted with his characteristic verve, as he did in Friday night's Adriana Lecourvreur, sung powerfully and beautifully by Maria Guleghina, Placido Domingo, and Olga Borodina.


  1. I love Broadway Musicals, but Opera is not my cup of tea, because most of them, if not all, are in French or Italian. What is the main difference between the two? Do I understand correctly that Broadway Musicals are the American version of Opera from Europe? Are they so-called "Rock Opera" that is tailored to the American taste, and therefore they are more popular in the American entertainment market?

  2. Surprisingly, I haven't found a definition that clearly distinguishes between opera and Broadway musical. I searched a while ago after seeing Lehar's opera "The Merry Widow" that seemed very much like a Broadway musical to me. (In fact, it was made into 2 notable musical movie versions, one with Maurice Chevalier & Jeanette MacDonald, and another with Fernando Lamas & Lana Turner.)

    I used to think that one distinguishing characteristic was that opera has most of its content sung. But there are some Mozart operas with a lot of spoken dialogue (recitative). And "Evita," "West Side Story," "Phantom of the Opera," "Rent" [taken from the opera "La Boheme"], and many other Broadway shows are almost totally sung. Of these, only "Rent" would be called a "rock opera" and all are fairly popular around the world - and calling them "Broadway" musicals snubs the importance of London in creating such musicals.

    Today, there's a clear distinction, though, in technique. Opera in opera houses is not amplified; singers must "sing out" in their own "opera voices." On Broadway, almost everything is amplified.

    "Accessibility" is an issue with many operas; it is simply an unfamiliar art form to many who haven't been raised with it. Hence, I'm very careful in selecting operas to invite opera neophytes to. Still, "La Boheme," "La Traviata," "Carmen," and "Aida" are enjoyed by almost everyone because of the familiar tunes and the extravagant stage productions.

    As to language, in 1995 the Met finally provided "Met Titles": individual text screens for each audience member that provide translations (now in English, German, and Spanish), of the singing/recitative lines; most other opera houses provide "surtitles" - translations projected onto a screen above the stage. So the audience can now understand what's being sung/said, though it's one more thing to pay attention to (in addition to the story, action, music, sets, and dancing). That's a lot to take in all at once. It normally takes me 3 performances to begin to understand an opera that I haven't seen before. Then there's the difference in treatment by different casts (often two casts for an opera at the Met during a season).

    So opera is certainly the richest performing art form we have. It's overwhelming for many. But having learned about the performing arts by growing up with classical music, then Broadway shows and musicals, then dance (ballet, modern, and Jazz), before I got deeply into opera, I found I had the background to understand and seriously appreciate it.

  3. I always wonder how could the voice of the opera singers be so laud and it could reach every corner of the theater without a mic. After I had purchased a Cockado from Bird Jungle in Hartsdale NY, I finally understood. The voice of this tiny little bird, with such a tiny little lung, is so laud that everyone in our seven-story condo building in Orlando could easily hear her screaming. As a result, I received a compliant letter from the HOA.